United Airlines pilots walked a picket line outside a Bush Intercontinental Airport-area hotel on Friday as part of a nationwide protest for better work-life balance and higher pay.
United pilots have been negotiating for a new contract with airline leadership and haven’t received a raise in almost half a decade, they say.
The United pilots in Houston carried signs Friday outside the Sheraton North Houston demanding fair pay along with better working conditions. It was one of 10 sites across the country with the airline’s pilots picketing.
Various cars that passed by the Sheraton honked in support.
"Isn't that awesome? When people drive by and honk their support at us?" said United pilot Michael Wilson.
Wilson is represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest airline pilot union in the world. Over 69,000 pilots at 39 U.S. and Canadian airlines are represented by the union.
While pilots picketed, they are unlikely to strike anytime soon. Federal law makes it very difficult for unions to conduct strikes in the airline industry, and the last walkout at a U.S. carrier was more than a decade ago.
The coast-to-coast protests by United pilots come on the heels of overwhelming strike-authorization votes by pilots at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. United pilots could be the next to vote, according to union officials.
Pilots at all three carriers are looking to match or beat the deal that Delta Air Lines reached with its pilots earlier this year, which raised pay rates by 34% over four years. United has proposed to match the Delta increase, but that might not be enough for a deal.
"We still have a long ways to go to resolve some of the issues at the table," said Garth Thompson, chair of the United wing of the Air Line Pilots Association.
Thompson said discussion about wages has been held up while the two sides negotiate over scheduling, including the union’s wish to limit United’s ability to make pilots work on their days off.
United spokesman Joshua Freed said, "We’re continuing to work with the Air Line Pilots Association on the industry-leading deal we have put on the table for our world-class pilots."
Houston used to be the headquarters for Continental Airlines, before it merged with United, and Wilson said the city is still a huge pilot base for United.
"When we step in that flight deck, we are the most professional and all we care about is your safety," Wilson said. "So we're gonna get you where you need to go. We're gonna do the job to take you there. What we would like to do is that when we're off, with our loved ones, that we're off.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.